Sunday, August 31, 2014
In January, Georgetown artist Johnnie Hare Cowan was selected to be this year’s Wooden Boat Show poster artist.
On Wednesday, Aug. 27, her painting and the poster were unveiled to the public at a reception at the S.C. Maritime Museum.
Cowan explained a committee selected her to be the artist in January, and was given a May 1 deadline to finish a work with the subject of her choice.
“It took a couple of months to do the research, and then to do drawings to prepare for the painting. It took about two months to actually paint it because I used a lot of glazes,” she explained.
Her oil painting, “The Maiden Voyage,” depicts the lumber cargo schooner City of Georgetown sailing in Winyah Bay, with the Georgetown lighthouse visible in the background.
The vessel was built in 1902 and was leased by the Atlantic Coast Lumber Company, she said. Of the schooner’s 50 owners, nine were from Georgetown, and hence the ship was named after their home. She said the vessel’s flags were a gift from Mayor William Morgan.
“It continuously came to the port of Georgetown, loaded up with lumber here and made the trip to the northeast with the lumber, and back again.”
Cowan said she selected City of Georgetown to be the subject of her painting because it was named in honor of the city, which she learned from a Maritime Museum exhibit.
“The Maritime Museum was featuring a show that had a section on The Henrietta, the largest wooden ship built in South Carolina, and a section on lumber schooners, one of which was City of Georgetown.
“I was really trying to choose between The Henrietta and the City of Georgetown, so I did some research, read two books … [I picked the latter because] I wanted a painting of a ship that you could definitely place in Georgetown, South Carolina.”
Cowan has been an artist her whole life, but said painting the schooner was a new venture for her. She said mastering the details was one challenge of the work; the 168-foot schooner is painted to-scale, with one inch equaling 10 feet.
Another challenge was working with oils. Cowan said although she has done oil painting in the past, most of her works are done in watercolor and it took some practice to get used to the medium again.
She said her biggest enjoyment during the project was learning Georgetown’s history during her research.
“[I enjoyed] learning about the lumber industry in Georgetown. I think we’re all aware of the rice culture and the indigo, but not much is said about the lumber industry here. The Atlantic Coast lumber industry was one of the largest of the east coast,” she said.
Cowan called the chance to create the painting for the boat show poster “a real honor” and an “exciting opportunity.” She said if given the chance, she would love to do it again.
“It’s a serious learning project, so it takes a couple of months to prepare. After this I have a great respect for artists who choose to do historical events or people because you really want them to be accurate. To have them accurate, you really have to do the research.”
Cowan’s painting career spans 40 years. Although she’s worked in oils and acrylics, the bulk of her work is in watercolor. She said most of her paintings depict landscapes and flowers.
The artist has lived in Georgetown since 1969.
“When I moved to Georgetown, no one was really painting in watercolor, so I started teaching lessons and founded the Georgetown Watercolor Society, and I was its first president. I’m also a member of the South Carolina Watercolor Society.”
A retired teacher, Cowan described her art as “more than a hobby.” Her work is featured at the Georgetown Art Gallery, among other galleries.
She said of her passion: “Painting is one of those things that you can sit down and start working on, and then all of a sudden you realize it’s five hours later.”
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